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Columbus, Ohio — hipper than you’d think

Bustling hipster city features art, shopping, two gayborhoods and more

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Columbus travel, gay news, Washington Blade
Vintage Divine art at the Columbus Museum of Art. (Photo by Bill Malcolm)

Editor’s note: Travel is not recommended because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This column, written before social distancing went into effect, is intended for future suggestion. 

What’s the fourth fastest growing city in the country, the fastest growing city in the Midwest and the biggest city in Ohio? A city that has not one but two gayborhoods? 

That would be Columbus, Ohio, another millennial magnet and hangout for the urban hipsters. It’s also a fashion capital. Combine that with Midwest friendliness and affordability (and the huge student scene at Ohio State University) and you’re in for a great long weekend or week-long vacation. And best of all, it’s driveable from many cities. 

WHAT TO DO 

Don’t miss the North Market (59 Spruce St.), an indoor farmers’ market with great specialty shops like Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. Also inside the Market is Stauf’s Coffee which makes a strong Moka Java blend. North Market has been in operation since 1876.

Nearby is Goodale Park (also in Short North), perfect for a stroll. 

Back on High Street in the Short North. You can design your own candle at the Candle Lab where you scent your own gourmet candle creations. Also check out Torso.

You will not want to miss the groundbreaking exhibit, “Art After Stonewall: 1969-1989” at the Columbus Museum of Art (480 E. Broad St.). It features everything from Divine to Andy Warhol. 

In Germantown south of downtown, you can enjoy the brick streets. Walk among the life size structures at Topiary Park at 480 East Town Street. Get lost in the Book Loft’s 32 rooms of books (bookloft.com). Take a stroll in Schiller Park after your book browsing. 

GETTING THERE

Columbus is a short or medium-length drive from many cities. 

The John Glenn International Airport has nonstops from around the country. 

WHERE TO EAT

Ray Ray’s Barbeque Food Truck outside the Land Grant Brewing Company allows you to enjoy the best barbecue in town with the local India Pal Ale beers. My favorite was the Experimental IPA. 

The Kitchen (231 E. Livingston Ave.) is a great group experience which they call participatory dining. 

Barcelona in German Village (263 E. Whittier St.) has three kinds of paella including vegetarian. It’s located in an old German social hall in use since the mid-1890s (barcelonacolumbus.com). Check out the patio. It’s where metropolitan chic meets old world charm. 

Also in German Village (716 S. High St.) is Ambrose and Eve which makes a perfect brunch spot. Try the perch sandwich. The brioche home made bread with pepper jack cheese is to die for. After brunch, check out the Antiques on High. 

The Service Bar in the Short North (1230 N. Courtland) has unusual menu creations. Try the brussels sprouts salad as well as its version of a taco. The Middle West Spirits Bar inside the restaurant also features craft vodka and whiskey for purchase (middlewestspirits.com).

Also in Short North is the Guild House Restaurant, which features farm to table creations by Cameron Mitchell. 

Goodale Station Restaurant (77 E. Nationwide Blvd., in the Canopy Hotel) downtown has a great rooftop scene. Try the cheese plate. 

Also downtown is The Keep Kitchen and Liquor Bar, which is perfect for brunch. It’s located in Columbus’ art deco high rise, LeVeque Lincoln Tower which now includes a hotel. It was built in the 1927 as the headquarters of an insurance company. The terra cotta exterior is rarely found in the Midwest and the art deco murals in the lobby are a treasure. 

NIGHTLIFE

The gayborhoods are the Short North Arts District north of downtown and Historic Germantown Village south of downtown.

In Germantown, you’ll find excellent cocktails at the Tremont Lounge (708 S. High) while you can enjoy the piano bar and neighborhood friendliness at the Club Diversity (4941 S. High). Enjoy the sexy dancers and drag queens at Boscoe’s Bar (224 S. High).

Make your first stop the Union Café at 782 N. High. It’s Columbus’ original video bar and is lots of fun.

Across the street is the Axis Nightclub at 775 N. High. Both are in the Short North. Enjoy the drag show Friday nights at the Axis. I hear it also has dancers and a Sunday tea dance. 

In Germantown Village, you can enjoy the dancers at Boscoes (1224 S. High), have a cocktail at the Tremont Lounge (708 S. High), or enjoy the piano player at Club Diversity.

Downtown you will find Slammers, Columbus’s lesbian bar where everyone is welcome. 

WHERE TO STAY 

I stayed at the new Moxy Hotel by Marriott in the Short North Neighborhood (just north of downtown at 808 N. High). The Moxy is Marriott’s millennial brand — boutique and affordable (and fun). You check in at the bar (and get a free drink coupon). The rooms are fun and functional but you will want to hang out in the lobby or in the new Town House Restaurant (which opens soon). It’s near the bars and shopping in the Short North. If you forgot anything, the United Dairy Farmers convenience store at 900 N. High has food to go, great ice cream, liquor and more. The Moxy features a nice fitness center on the sixth floor as well as well as a balcony with great views.

Also is Short North is the new Graduate Hotel, a small chain found in Big Ten cities throughout the Midwest and beyond. Short North also has a Meridien Hotel and a Hampton Inn. 

I have also stayed at the Red Roof Inn Downtown, a hotel version of the brand which is very affordable. The Westin Southern Hotel is another favorite. All the major chains are downtown. 

UPCOMING 

Upcoming events include the AIDS Walk (originally planned for April but now bumped to summer), the Pride March in June (June 19-21) and a softball tournament (Aug. 21). 

FOR MORE INSIDER TRAVEL TIPS

PRIZM Magazine published bimonthly is Ohio’s LGBTQ magazine. It’s full of local news and upcoming events and online at prizmnews.com.

Stop by the Stonewall Columbus Community Center at 1160 N. High for travel tips or read its calendar online at stonewallcolumbus.org

Experience Columbus publishes Out In Columbus which is on line at outincbus.com.

(614) is a monthly magazine about Columbus which has travel tips as is Columbus Monthly. 

Columbus is full of surprises and fun. 

Bill Malcolm is America’s only LGBTQ syndicated value travel columnist. He’s based in Indianapolis. His publication is or has been carried in LGBTQ publications from Charlotte, N.C., to Los Angeles. It’s also posted on the IGLTA travel blog. 

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Travel

Saugatuck/Douglas is the art coast of Michigan

Beaches and peaches abound in this LGBTQ-friendly escape

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The Saugatuck Dunes State Park offers breathtaking scenery. (Photo by Bill Malcolm)

The Saugatuck-Douglas villages in Southwest Michigan are the only LGBTQ-focused vacation areas between Provincetown and the Russian River in California. Nestled with sandy beaches along Lake Michigan (and fresh, shark-free waters), the area is not only an artist colony but now features a plethora of wineries and microbreweries and is a fruit basket (blueberries, peaches, apples, and more are all grown here). With two LGBTQ+ resorts (Dunes Resort and CampIt), there is something for everyone and for every budget. Don’t forget to take home some blueberries and peaches.

WHAT TO DO

Oval Beach in Saugatuck is an award winner. The sunsets are incredible. You can hike for miles in the nearby dunes or walk along the beach. You can also climb to the top of nearby Mount Baldhead, a high sand dune on the west side of the river. 

Take a tour of the Kalamazoo River out to Lake Michigan on an authentic stern wheel paddleboat. I loved the sunset cruise. Snacks and drinks available (cash only). You will find them at 716 Water St. in Saugatuck (saugatuckboatcruises.com). Check out the new 1860s era fish shanty and Fish Market next door. It features posters telling about the colorful fishing history of Saugatuck. 

Take a hike to the beach at the Wau-Ke-Na Nature Preserve at 116th St. just south of West Side County Park. Further north you will find the historic Pier Cove Beach (2290 Lakeshore Dr., Fennville).

North of Saugatuck you can take a hike up the dunes and down at Laketown Beach. It’s free but parking is limited. 

Take a walk around historic downtown Douglass, which even has a park honoring the Dunes Resort founders who turned the area into an LGBTQ destination. Enjoy “Unmasked: Photographic Portraits After 2020” at the new Douglas Library. 

The Saugatuck Center for the Arts has shows all summer including “Dixie’s Tupperware Party” and “Just Too Big: Songs from Broadway Blockbusters.” Details and tickets at sc4a.org.

Pick blueberries at Blue Star Farms or just grab a pint to go. (bluestarblueberries.com)

Take a hike through the sand dunes and forest down to the beach at Saugatuck Dunes State Park. 

WHERE TO STAY 

The Dunes Resort in Douglas (333 Blue Star Highway) offers cabins and motel rooms that are affordable at the weekday special rate (Monday-Wednesday). Don’t miss the bar scene, the outdoor bar and dance floor, and the many special events. The T Dance on Sundays includes a barbeque. The pool scene includes cocktails and food to order as well as cabanas. It’s another must and is great for people watching.

Upcoming events include:

Aug. 6-8 Mardi Gras Weekend

Aug. 20-21 White Party Weekend

For more information, go to dunesresort.com.

Other nearby motels include The Blue Star Motel next to the Dunes or the AmericInn just down the road, both in Douglas. The Northern Lights Condos also are an option. 

Down in Fennville, stay at the Camp It Resort, located at 6635 118th Ave. in Fennville (campitresort.com). This Michigan LGBTQ resort welcomes everyone. They just had their first trans week. Camping, cabins, bunk house, and other lodging options make this a place your affordable option. The Biggie Food Truck is perfect for a meal or snack. The pool scene is a lot of fun and they often have shows. Set on 33 acres, there store has everything you need and is open late on weekends. They too have a lot going on this season including:

July 23-25 Christmas in July

Sept. 17-19 Wine and Dine Weekend includes a tour of nearby wineries

Oct. 8-10 includes a tour of 3 new nearby microbreweries

WHERE TO EAT

The new women-owned Guardian Brewery and restaurant has a great Sunday Brunch. Their micro brews are very good. They are just off exit 41 off I-196 in Saugatuck. 

The Farmhouse Deli (100 Blue Star Highway, Douglas) features farm to table deli sandwiches, soups, and fresh squeezed juices. They are at 100 Blue Star Highway in Douglas. Try the carrot blend, Zing, fresh juice creation.

The new Isabel’s Market and Eatery (across from the Dunes Resort at 310 Blue Star Highway) features local products and has an Italian theme. Try the pastrami sandwich. You can even take a cooking class. 

Don’t miss the pizza and subs at Lakeshore Convenience and Pizza, 155 Blue Star Highway in Douglas. 

The Uncommon Coffee Roasters in downtown Saugatuck is perfect for a coffee. Pick up some beans to go.

The What Not in Fennville is another local favorite. Don’t miss the fish fry on Fridays. 

GETTING THERE

The area is about two hours from Chicago and three hours from Detroit. You can also fly into Grand Rapids or take Amtrak to Holland. If you stay at the Dunes, you might be able to get away with no car. Otherwise you need one although they do have an on-demand bus and bike rentals in downtown Saugatuck. 

FOR MORE INFORMATION 

Stop by the Saugatuck Douglas Visitors Information Center in Douglas (95 Blue Star Highway) or visit their website, Saugatuck.com.

Bill Malcolm is the nation’s only LGBTQ+ value travel columnist. Based in Indianapolis, his columns have appeared in publications across the country. His opinions are his own. Special thanks to Oval Beach, the Saugatuck Douglas Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Douglas Dunes Resort, and Camp It Resort.

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Palm Springs remains an ideal outdoor getaway

Safe fun with hiking and other socially distanced activities

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The Indian Canyons hike is just one of many options for safe, outdoor fun in Palm Springs. (Photo by Bill Malcolm)

Palm Springs, Calif., is a perfect vacation destination when you feel safe to travel again. With outdoor hiking and adventures, there is plenty of room to spread out and enjoy the desert and mountain scenery. The LGBTQ life is back open (socially distanced, outdoor dining and drinking, masks required). The LGBTQ scene includes a vibrant downtown street, Arenas, where most (but not all) of the bars are located.

The city is nestled against the dramatic San Jacinto Mountains. The often-snow-capped peaks tower over the desert community, which is arguably the most LGBTQ friendly in the country. Palm Springs is one of seven or so cities in the Coachella Valley.

GETTING THERE: I took Southwest Airlines, which has stared service from Oakland, Denver, and Phoenix, to the very handy Palm Springs Airport. To get downtown, walk across the street to the Civic Center bus (#2) to get to your hotel. I took American back through Phoenix. Service was top notch on my favorite legacy carrier, which had great in-flight entertainment and charging stations for your devices in the seat. You can also take Amtrak direct three times a week or do an Amtrak bus/train combo to get to Palm Springs. The Sunline system also runs a bus to Riverside to connect with the commuter rail system into Los Angeles.

WHAT TO DO: Hike the Indian Canyons, the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. The desert oasis features the native Washington fan palm trees, which are the only palms actually native to the Golden State. Both Andreas and Murray Canyons are great for hiking. Palm Canyon runs along a river filled with palms and is an easy hike for all. Bring plenty of water as it can get hot on the trail.

Also hike the Henderson Trail as well or the trails at the end of Ramon Street. Both are free. Check out the modern mid-century architecture including north of downtown.

Don’t miss the LaQuinta Farmers Market on Sundays in Old Town LaQuinta (down the valley a bit). The LaQuinta Resort nearby was the destination for movie stars like Greta Garbo where you can still see her house. The beautiful grounds are worth a visit even if you don’t stay at this posh resort. Stop by Lulu’s Home and Fashion Accessories in Old Town La Quinta.

Visit the Lotus Garden Center in Palm Desert for art work and garden accessories. Take the Tram to the top of the mountain. Advance reservations are required.

Early risers may want to go for a walk or a run with the Palm Springs Front Runners/Walkers. Get the meeting times and locations at psfr.org. Work out at the World Gym. Day passes available.

WHERE TO EAT: The Public Greens Café has great juices. Enjoy the French pastries at Peninsula Pastries. Bouschet Wines also serves food in the parking lot on weekends. The creative bistro food is a must (www.boushet .com). You will find all three just south of downtown in the Sun Center strip mall. Nature’s Health Food (555 Sunrise) has great and healthy salads and other treats. Enjoy the take-out food at the park across the street.

Sherman’s Restaurant is great for New York-style deli food. You will find them downtown. The Native Food Café has a great meat free taco salad. Casa Mendoza’s Restaurant in La Quinta has great Mexican Food.

NIGHTLIFE: There’s a bar for everyone on Arenas Avenue downtown. Stacy’s has jazz and piano. Hunter’s is great for happy hour. You will find the leather crowd at the Eagle 501. Quad Z and Chill Bar are also fun as are Black Book Bar and Grill and Streetbar. Do some shopping at Gay Mart while you are in the neighborhood. All have set up outside seating to maintain social distancing and masks are required.

The Tool Shed at 600 E. Sunny Dunes Road is also fun. Enjoy a slice of pizza for $1. Farther out is the Barracks, which has a packed Sunday beer bust.

WHERE TO STAY: You cannot beat the value of the Motel 6 Downtown (660 S. Palm Canyon Drive). Just steps from Starbucks, the French Bakery, the Organic Restaurant, the Antiques District, and the Tool Shed Bar. Other options include the LGBTQ resorts, including those on Warm Sands Drive (just east of downtown). The Best Western downtown is also handy (and is right next to the Arenas area). I have also stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott. Also recommended is the Ace Hotel and Saguaro. You will find the LGBTQ resorts on Warm Sands and other locations. The Santiago resort is also very nice.

UPCOMING EVENTS: The Dinah Shore golf tournament has been moved to this fall. The Pride Parade may (or may not) be held in November.

TRAVEL TIPS: Summer is your value season as temps can be toasty. Also, you will need a reservation on weekends as the city is quite popular with the LA crowd. During the week is quieter.

Check current COVID-19 restrictions before any travel. When I was there, masks were required everywhere – inside and out including on hiking trails and sidewalks. Check COVID-19 travel recommendations from the CDC, the state of California, and Riverside County before booking your reservation to the area.

For more information, Visit Palm Springs, the official tourism website, has all you need to plan your Palm Springs vacation (visitpalmsprings.com). Check out their LGBTQ guide which has all the information you need including on the variety of LGBTQ resorts.

 

Bill Malcolm is America’s only LGBTQ value travel writer. Based in Indianapolis, he has written more than 30 columns that have appeared in LGBTQ publications around the country. His opinions are his own. He is not recommending travel unless authorized by the CDC, the State of California, and Riverside County. Check current COVID travel recommendations and restrictions before deciding to travel.

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Travel

Essential tips for COVID-free travel

Be ready for a patchwork of confusing rules this summer

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Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés)

COVID-19 will make travel a bit more complicated this summer. Going to Europe? Taking a cruise? Visiting Hawaii, San Juan or St. Lucia? Or maybe you are planning a road trip? The rules for traveling responsibly during COVID vary greatly. Be ready to encounter a patchwork of confusing rules and requirements this summer.

Depending on what you choose to do for your well-earned escape, it is going to be necessary to educate yourself on what to expect; how to travel by the rules; and be ready to prove you have a negative COVID-19 test (and it may cost you to prove it). Trust, prepping for your trip in advance will pay off.

Your health, safety, peace of mind, and fun are an important part of the travel experience. Here are five essential tips for to ensure you have a fabulous summer getaway.

1. Research before booking your trip. Before you book your trip, be sure to understand how COVID-19 has changed the experience. Nearly everything about travel has changed due to COVID-19. Hotels, airplanes, trains, theme parks, destinations and resorts have all have modified safety precautions in place. The good news is that you will likely find fewer crowds, more space and enhanced cleaning. You may also find limited services such as curfews with bars and restaurants closing early. A driving trip within the U.S. likely will find fewer restrictions compared to an island trip.

2. Make reservations and buy tickets in-advance. Before leaving for your trip, you should book your restaurant reservations and reserve your tickets to a museum or attraction. While you might not like having to plan out your vacation in advance, you will likely find it hard to do all the things you want to do by waiting. COVID-19 means capacity restrictions, so there is limited availability especially on weekends and during peak periods. You can always make changes when you are there.

3. When flying give yourself extra time at the airport. Many stores and food establishments may still be closed or have limited service, so it will take longer to buy food and drink. Some airlines have also eliminated beverage and snack service in coach, so be ready to “Bring Your Own.” If you are used to flying first class, be ready for a curtailed (i.e. downgraded) experience as well.

4. Stay at a trusted hotel. Staying at a hotel is perhaps one of the most important travel decisions you will make. Most hotels have developed respected cleaning protocols to keep you and their employees safe. Among the hotel industry’s leaders is The Four Seasons. The Four Seasons has developed “Lead With Care” that includes both obvious hotel guest protocols and enhanced procedures behind-the-scenes including employee trainings. The Four Seasons also developed an app that provides guests with the high-standard customer service the luxury chain is known for while providing guests with privacy and limiting interactions with the team. COVID-19 has increased the costs for many hotels so it is important to stay with a trusted brand that you can count on to deliver on the safety measures promised.

5. Proof of a negative COVID test. The most complicated and expensive part of COVID-free travel will be meeting a requirement, if needed, to prove you have a negative COVID test. Hawaii, San Juan, cruise ships and other travel experiences are requiring that travelers prove they are COVID negative upon arrival at the destination or before starting your trip. Some destinations even require a mid-trip test to prove, again, that you are still COVID negative. Hawaii implemented a program that requires travelers to the islands to use a ‘trusted partner’ (so you can’t use any test and vaccinations are not accepted). You must create an account at travel.hawaii.gov, download an app, and submit results upon arrival from a COVID test within 72 hours of arrival from a trust partner. Coming from Philadelphia through Chicago, that means I had to order an expensive test from American Airlines that was sent to me by UPS, the test included a virtual call to prove my identity and a virtual assistant to show me how to properly take the nasal smear.

Within a day of sending my test back via UPS, I had my results. I printed out my negative test, uploaded my results and also downloaded the QR code to my phone. Aloha! Are you negative? Mahalo.

 

Jeff Guaracino is the author of two books on LGBT travel, a syndicated travel columnist and a tourism executive with more than two decades in the industry.

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